Three cracked pillars of a failed state
Facing up to State’s failure can allow us begin again
The weakness of these two pillars of the State is long established. What is new is the virtual collapse of the third. The executive is now crumbling too. The Constitution is clear about what the executive branch of government is: the cabinet acting as a whole. But cabinet government is now itself in crisis. The most consequential economic decision in the history of the State, the blanket bank guarantee of September 2008, was made when most of the cabinet was not present and when, according to themselves, the absent members had little understanding of what they were agreeing on the phone.
Since then, we have seen that the budget has been passed on for examination by the finance committee of the Bundestag in Berlin before going to the Cabinet in Dublin. And we know, not least from a senior Minister such as Joan Burton, that economic and budgetary decisions are being made not by the Cabinet but by the (all-male) Economic Management Council of Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, along with unelected and unaccountable advisors. In the most important areas, cabinet government has been replaced by arrangements outside the constitutional structures of the State.
One might argue that there is in fact a fourth pillar of the State: direct popular sovereignty through referendums. If so, this pillar is cracked, too. The referendum on the Seanad will present us with a “choice” scarcely anyone wants: between abolishing bicameral parliaments and keeping a rotten and absurd institution.
Even without considering failures of policy or achievement, it ought to be obvious that the southern State is a “failed political entity”. Does this mean it is a “failed State” in the same sense as, say, Somalia is? Of course not: we have a functioning Army, police force and bureaucracy and public services that, however strained and inadequate, meet the requirements of a modern society. But it is a failed State in the simple and obvious sense that none of its institutional arms is in working order.
The first step to recovery is honest acknowledgement of the scale of the problem. Piecemeal, symbolic “reforms” will do nothing except deepen the sense of disillusionment. Facing up to failure can give us the courage to start again.